Aug 032008

Stephen Meyer’s report in the Maritime Accident Investigation Board’s annual report covering 2007, now available, brings a disturbing viewpoint alongside a few sprinkles of good.

For the second year running the number of accidents involving merchant vessels has dropped for the second year. Although Admiral Meyer warns: “this is a very pleasing outcome, although it is not yet statistically justifiable to consider this a significant trend.” Unfortunmately, the second shoe to drop is that 2007 reported the highest number of seafarer deaths since MAIB itself was established and more than twice the number in any of the past 15 years..Even allowing for six deaths in just two accidents.

Meyer hits out forcefully on the issue of enclosed/confined space incidents: “The tragic death of three crew in a chain locker on board Viking Islay (See The Case Of The Rusty Assassin – BDC) came at a time of increasing concern about the rising rate of similar accidents worldwide. The hazards of enclosed spaces should be fully recognised by all seafarers, and systems should be in place to ensure safe entry into such compartments. However, the tragedy on board Viking Islay, and two subsequent fatal accidents reported to the MAIB in 2008, clearly indicates that this is not so. Unfortunately, despite the evidence to the contrary, some authorities seem to believe that they have no need to act on this problem; the MAIB considers such complacency to be unacceptable.”

Also in the firing line is the effectiveness of the Port Maritime Safety Code following the loss of three lives when the tug Flying Phantom capsized nine months after a MAIB report on a near-catastrophic accident in the Port of Liverpool and the 2000 incident on the Clyde which was almost identical. Says Meyer: “The MAIB will need to take a view on whether the current ports’ system is effective in ensuring that safety lessons are learned from previous accidents.”

MAIB’s core output is its post-report reommendendations intended to makes a ships, seafarers and the seas a safer place. The fate of those reports can be quite revealing and sometimes worrying, as, prehaps, they are intended to be.

Take the British Wind Energy Association, BWEA, whose members are involved in producing wind energy through windmills located in big, windy places like the sea. To erect these impressive structures, jackup barges are towed by tug to place the pillars in position on the seabed, so BWEA members charters the necessary vessels through brokers.

After the grounding of the Octopus jack-up barge and the tug Harald in September 2006, MAIB suggested that BWEA should alert its members to the need to be aware of chart data sources and Category Zones of Confidence, CATZOC, when planning passages. BWEA rejected the recommendation outright because its members only hired vessels, didn’t own them, and that its members weren’t shipmasters or navigating officers.

It didn’t occur to BWEA that it might be awfully helpful for its members to bring their shipbrokers and charterer’s attention to the issue to avoid such incidents in the future. MAIB describes the response as ‘unhelpful’.

“Not our problem – not our concern” is an interesting approach to safety culture and MAC wonders when BWEA might be grown-up enough to realise that safety is everybody’s concern.

So, a well deserved smack on the knuckles for BWEA.

Two recommendations received no response, including one related to the triple-collision on the Elbe in which contact between a container ship, Arctic Ocean and a dry cargo vessel, Maritime Lady resulted in the capsize and sinking of the latter, which was subsequently hit by a chemical products tanker, Sunny Blossom.

MAIB’s recommendations to Maritime Lady’s owner, Maritime Management were to: “Provide guidance to masters, on the need to adopt manning levels appropriate to their area of navigation, taking into account the increased risks of grounding and collision inherent to navigating in pilotage waters.

“If appropriate, consider offering masters a period of suitable training in the effective use and management of bridge personnel, teams and resources.”

Nothing was heard from Maritime Management.

In the second case, a sailing yacht, Hooligan V, suffered a keel failure which lead to the death of one of the crew. MAIB told the yacht manufacturer: “Ensure that components manufactured for fitting to boats built under RCD criteria fully meet the RCD requirements, are supported by calculations and have the appropriate Safety Factor applied…Refer to component designers when considering changes to a design to ensure that safety is not compromised, especially by the addition of welds in stress critical areas…. Where appropriate, specify weld fatigue procedures to relieve stresses in critical weld areas.”

Follow-ups failed to get a response and Meyer comments: “It is to be hoped that their lack of response indicates that neither Maritime Management AS nor Konstuktiebedrijf De Jong BV remain in the maritime business.”

By the way, if you know anything about these two companies, do let MAC know through our confidential reporting page.

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